Friday, June 25, 2010

Penny For Your Smile...

You know those old photos that people have, of their great-grandparents? Where no one is smiling, because that had to sit frozen for 20 minutes?

Ever wonder what they were thinking?

Ever think about what goes into a smile?

Let’s think about this. What makes you smile?

When you think of soccer, does it make you smile?

How about baseball?

Let’s say someone loves playing baseball so much, he puts all his energy into it and works his way up to the Major League. Do you think –that- would put a smile on his face? If not the money, at least the fact that he's playing MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL?

Everyone's talking about this recent study from Wayne University, in Michigan.

Using photos of Major League players, and controlling statistically for all kinds of factors, they discovered not only is a smile an indicator of longevity, but even the type of smile. The players with the broadest, happiest smiles lived the longest.

Here's a summary of the study.

But I have a question that the researchers didn’t ask. Maybe you could get me an answer from your dinner table tonight.

How could someone be playing Major League baseball and NOT be grinning ear-to-ear?

(Jewish wisdom: True happiness comes not from what you make of yourself, but what you do for others.)

Shabbat Shalom

“War is a game that is played with a smile. If you can’t smile, grin. If you can’t grin, keep out of the way till you can.” - Churchill

PS: Know someone (including yourself) who could use a smile-boost? Try one of these books:


…and if none of those work, try this:

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Rite Stuff

Sorry this is late… I have a good excuse! Really!

This morning I passed one of my comprehensive exams for the Ph.D. It was the most challenging because it was in a field that I had least prior knowledge.

I'd been preparing for this exam for about a year, most actively the past three months. It was an oral exam, no notes, in front of two professors.

You would guess that I'm relieved.

You would be right.

But I'm not as relieved as my patient wife, who has had to put up with my relative inattention. So if anyone deserves a mazal-tov at this juncture, it is surely she! (tikva at jsli dot org)

(Wait til I get in dissertation mode - she doesn't know what she's got coming...)

Sometimes it feels like "life is a test."

If you ever feel like you're being tested and you're not a registered student, you might enjoy this gem of a book:

Life is a Test book

She's a great story teller and teaches how to re-frame each and every challenge as a test.

But all these little tests don't feel complete until graduation. Until you graduate, you haven't reached the finish line.

In the old days, graduation meant finishing 12th grade, then college, etc.

Nowadays, schools are building graduation ceremonies into every grade.

Our 6-year-old Yoseph, for instance, had his graduation ceremony this week - from Kindergarten. You should have seen it - cap-n-gown, procession, the whole works. And the boys sang 2 medleys, the first to show off what they'd learned in the Jewish part of the curriculum, the second to show off their achievements in "general studies".

Here are a couple photos:

Rites and rituals are so important to a feeling of accomplishment. Have you passed any tests or challenges recently that you were never recognized for? Please let me know so that I can help you fill this void, with all due pomp and circumstance.

Now here's the big question try asking this at your dinner table: What about the life tests that you did NOT pass? What to do?

(The crib-sheet answer: Every challenge is a "test", and if you failed it, that means you'll get it again, sooner or later. But the next time you get it, the challenge is slightly different: It will be, did you learn anything from the previous time? No? Back to school for you!)

Shabbat Shalom

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” - Churchill

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hug a Rabbi

What's your favorite teacher memory?

A. A remarkable, true teacher story
B. A challenge for all readers
C. The recipe for making your very own rabbi!

A. First, the remarkable story.

Solve for n, if 100 – n = 25

Starting to sweat? Then you must not have had Paul Miller as your math teacher.

Which would be unusual, since 75 years ought to be long enough to each just about everybody.

No, that's not a typo.

Here in Baltimore, there is a Jewish math teacher who has been teaching for 75 years.

That's 3x25 years.

It's such a remarkable and uplifting story, I’m inviting you to read it in full here.

B. The challenge for all readers

Did you ever have a teacher who changed your life?

Did your child/grandchild/nephew/niece ever have a teacher who went the extra mile?

Do you have any idea how hard it is just to be an average teacher?

My wife has always been diligent about giving a gift with a hand-written thank you note to all of our children's teachers every June. I urge you to do the same. If you can't afford a gift, a hand-written note is perfectly adequate. If you can't afford the stamp, send an email. Let them know how much you appreciate their work this past year.

You may want to print out the Paul Miller story and send it with your thank-you notes.

C. The Recipe

What's the Jewish slant on this?

Well, first and foremost, appreciation is supposed to be a hallmark of being Jewish. The word “Jewish” comes from Yehuda which means thankful.

But more than that….Everyone needs a teacher. Even we adults. When it comes to wisdom, we call this teacher a rabbi, a rav or a rebbe.

What's the difference?

Reb - equivalent to "Mr."
Rabbi - someone who has taught you some Torah or Jewish wisdom.
Rebbe - your primary teacher in one or more areas of wisdom.
Rav - someone, usually a rabbi, with whom you have a mentoring/coaching relationship, wherein you never "agree to disagree"

(To make it more confusing, "rav" is also used as a generic title in the place of "rabbi".)

(Also, it's OK to have more than one rav for various areas of life, but not more than one for the same area of life.)

Says the Talmud: "Acquire for yourself a friend, and make for yourself a rav."

This is the question for your table: Why does it choose the word "acquire" for a friend but "make" for a rav?

Think about it.

The answer, it seems to me, is this: For someone to be successful as your rav, in addition to inherent wisdom, they have to know your personal situation. What is good for the goose is not always good for the gander, so to speak. Therefore, you don’t just go to someone and say, “Will you be my rav?” Rather, you go to someone with specific questions, listen to the answers, try to follow them. Then go back with more questions. The more you go, the more you challenge, the more you listen and learn, the more that person becomes your rav. That’s the recipe for making yourself a rav.

By the way, everyone needs a rav. Even a rabbi. And every family needs a rav, not two.

Once again, think about it!

And don’t forget to send those thank you notes.

Shabbat Shalom

I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught. - Churchill

Oh yeah...PS:


Friday, June 04, 2010

Half-Full, Right?

Dedicated to my amazing wife, on our anniversary. You must be the epitome of patience and tolerance, to have put up with me for 14 years!

To my wife’s sometimes chagrin, our children have learned a very Roman ritual from their father that they insist on practicing every Friday night. Read on.

This will be my attempt to counter all the bad news out there about oil and Israel….

OK, the oil spill is really, really bad news. The isolation of Israel is really, really bad news. Is there any good news out there? Especially about Israel? Or about oil?

First of all, it's always a good idea to remember that about 50% of what we hear about Israel on the news is simply false.

The best way to understand this phenomenon is to watch this video:

(For more info, visit

Thus, although the evidence points to a terrorist operation under cover of humanitarian aid, the media firestorm makes the defenders into the criminals! Brilliant flank, if this were chess, Israel would be losing on points.

Question #1 for your table - What's your favorite bit of good news from the Land of Israel?

Can't think of anything? There’s so much, from the serious to the light-hearted. Here's a giant vegetable to break the ice: In fact, the world's largest ever, evidently.

Here’s something else inspiring, from just a few weeks ago.

OK, now to oil. There's really no good news about crude oil, so could we talk about olive oil?

As I mentioned, some time ago, I found myself in Rome. I wasn't the first Jew to live there, no the last, but I may have been the first Jew in Rome to watch the sunrise from the Gianicolo. (Or maybe not.)

Anyway, while there, I observed some very strange customs using olive oil. Until then, I had thought of olive oil as something to dress a salad with, and that's about it. But those crazy Mediterranean folks have all kinds of ways to use olive oil that haven't caught on in this country...yet.

For example:
- Dipping. They put some first-cold-press oil in a dish, add salt, and dip bread in it. With the right kind of bread (let's just say, for the sake of discussion, Mrs. Seinfeld's fame-us challa), it sounds crazy to a lot of "real Americans" but can add a little taste of Heaven to your Friday night dinner table.

- Pizza. Some Romans will tell you that the original and best way to make pizza is to coat the crust with a layer of olive oil, and nothing else. If you want to add cheese or other toppings, OK, but only after you've slathered with O.O.

- Suntan lotion. take a bottle of extra virgin, squeeze in a few drops of lemon juice, and presto, you have a lotion that will let you tan, but not burn. Or so they say, I was never able to overcome my aversion to rubbing salad dressing on my body.

By the way, speaking of pizza, did you know that the very first pizza was created when Imperial Roman soldiers put olive oil on Jewish matzas? (if this trivia interests you, and you have an iphone or ipod touch, please send me an email).

Question #2 for your table: What's your favorite olive oil, and your favorite way to enjoy this miracle fruit?

Shabbat Shalom

Do not let spacious plans for a new world divert your energies from saving what is left of the old.
- Churchill